‘Blessed is the king, coming in the name of the Lord.’ (Luke 19:38a)
Palm Sunday is an important festival for Christians. Today, when we have guests with us, for the Opoho School celebrations, might be a good time to explore together what it is all about.
Palm Sunday seems a strange event to modern people – procession, palm branches, a donkey, shouting and waving. What was it all about?
Jesus was coming to Jerusalem – from Galilee where he had been safely distanced from the factions and struggles of the capital – the Temple hierarchy and the Roman rulers.
In Galilee Jesus had been acknowledged as a rabbi – a teacher, but now he was taking on the role of a prophet – a messenger from God who, in the Jewish tradition, not only declared the will of God but often dramatised it in symbolic actions.
Jesus believed that his ministry was reaching a crisis – and that this crisis would occur in Jerusalem. How this would come to pass was unclear, but Jesus was acting in response to God – in faith that he was in God’s hands – on a path of obedience.
The drama of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem:
People were gathering from many places for Passover – the celebration of Israel’s rescue from Egypt. They had heard about Jesus. Hope for a new king (the Messiah) to free them from Rome would have been in many minds.
Jesus was aware of this expectation. He arranged for a young donkey to be ready, and rode it toward Jerusalem: a sign – a king coming in peace (No one makes war on a donkey!)
People acclaimed Jesus, with words from Psalm 118 – a Psalm for a Jewish festival – v 28 is the greeting to the king (in the days when Israel was free) as he entered the Temple as a pilgrim.
Jesus’ followers we are told (v. 27) picked up on the sign and began chanting, acclaiming Jesus as the king who came in God’s name. Palm branches waved.
Probably this was a quite local celebration – the Romans strengthened their garrison at the time of Jewish festivals, and acted swiftly against any demonstrations, but there is no sign that they had even heard of this event.
Jesus’ opponents however quickly saw the point (v 39) and called on Jesus to silence his followers – this kind of thing was too dangerous!
And it ends (v 41) with Jesus looking in sorrow over the holy city…
So we have the tradition of Palm Sunday:
-a king, but not like any other king. A king who embodied the ‘reign of God’, peace based on justice and compassion, which rejected political power, manipulation, and violent rule.
-a crowd – perhaps smaller than we sometimes think – filled with hope –calling ‘Hosanna’ = ‘save us’ and waving their palm branches.
-and critics, demanding that it be stopped.
But what about Jesus himself? At the beginning of his ministry he rejected any kind of ‘superhero’ role, and use of power to impress or influence people; calling people to return to God’s way (the ‘kingdom’ or ‘rule’ of God he called it).
Now he was laying down a challenge to the religious establishment – continued in later days in the events in the Temple when he attacked corruption and the commercialisation of religion – and where he ‘taught with (personal) authority’. His message was a message of new life through return to God, to living in harmony with God’s way.
We know what happened after that... -and we know it didn't end on Good Friday.
But today: we are not celebrating an event in the past...
...we are celebrating the beginning of a journey
-the journey of Jesus into Jerusalem, and all that happened there - and beyond
-our own journies into Holy Week, Good Friday, Easter - and beyond. A journey into peace, wholeness, new life, and stability in a changing world.
This is a time to remember that faith is not about a lot of doctrine - or about believing the impossible. Faith is about response, about taking up the challenge to find something new for our lives.
Faith is about joining the journey, in the company of Jesus, and of people we know and respect – and then going together.
and finding something new, and renewing - for our lives, and for our life together.
And we are all invited… .
Rev Dr Simon Rae
24. iii. 2013.